Lakers-Thunder Game 2: A Thunder magic trick, a Lakers disappearing act, and a change of the guard

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In Game 1, everything went wrong for the Lakers, everything went right for the Thunder. Thunder won. In Game 2, for 46 minutes, at least some things went right for the Lakers, everything went wrong for the Thunder. The pace was slow. The defense was incredible for the Lakers. The Thunder weren’t hitting jumpers. A seven-point lead with two minutes. Hold onto the ball, hold onto the lead, gain control of the series, go back to L.A. having rattled the kids in blue.

And then.

Disaster.

77-75 OKC over L.A.

As the Thunder closed on a 9-0 run, you couldn’t help but think of how often the Lakers had done this exact thing to so many teams. They were the ones who made the key steals late. They were the ones who waited for the opponent to crack. They were the ones who made clutch plays. But now? Now it’s OKC. They won when they played flawless, they won when they played terribly. And now it’s 2-0 OKC.

For Oklahoma City, there are reasons to be concerned but a ton of reasons for confidence. When the shots didn’t fall, they won. They had just a 92 offensive efficiency Wednesday night, and yet got the win. They had an off night offensively for the second-best scoring machine in the league, and they walk away with a 2-0 lead. Defensively, they stepped up to the challenge. Had they bent more inside, the game could have broken open. Had Thabo Sefolosha not done such a marvelous job on Kobe Bryant, helping him to a 9-25 night, they may not have sustained. The Thunder defense kept them in it, the Thunder’s athletes took the momentum, the Lakers’ ineptitude opened the door, and Kevin Durant slammed it shut.

And for a fun twist on a narrative, instead of LeBron James failing in the clutch, it was Kobe Bryant with this line: 0-2, zero points, 1 turnover, one bad pass knocked out off of him, one bad miss, one airball, no final shot, and a whole lot of frustration.  Bryant was clearly livid both after Kevin Durant’s game winner and upon turning around to see Steve Blake taking a three-pointer for the win instead of, you know, him.

It’s not wise to get riled up about Blake, however. This is a shooter who hit five threes against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7. He was wide open. I mean, wide open. The pass had to be made, the shot had to be taken. It just didn’t fall. This is life in the NBA, the reality of clutch vs. the myth. Bryant, though, certainly struggled and his play down the stretch may have thrown a little dirt on the Lakers.

But this series is far from over. The Lakers proved Wednesday that they can throw some kinks in the chain of OKC’s mighty system, and headed back to L.A. they have to be hopeful a few more things will go their way. The question is whether they can force OKC into the same halfcourt troubles it had Wednesday night, or if they get busted open by the same team that torched them in Game 1.

The Lakers can get right back into this thing with a win on Friday. But it’s a back to back set against a younger, fresher, hungrier team that seems to have all the answers, that can cross the finish line even when they stumble. The Lakers? They’re just trying to get the dust out of their mouth.

The Lakers had answers for the Thunder until the end. Then the ghosts that the Lakers usually wreak on their opponents grabbed hold of L.A.. By the throat.

Closing note: Andrew Bynum laughed as he left the floor.

Rumor: Lakers want to make Kurt Rambis associate head coach

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When Magic Johnson resigned as Lakers president, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had an opportunity to be bold. Instead of empowering cronies, she could find the best available executive to lead the front office.

Instead, she’s apparently again leaning on the comfort of friends.

As the Lakers’ conduct their coaching search, Kurt Rambis (Senior Basketball Advisor) and his wife Linda Rambis (Executive Director, Special Projects) are quite involved.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The goal is seemingly to move Rambis to the bench as an associate head coach. But if that doesn’t work, he could become the assistant general manager.

Kurt Rambis interviewing Monty Williams makes sense. Kurt Rambis works in basketball operations, after all. Linda Rambis’ presence makes less sense given her official role within the organization, but she is close to Jeanie Buss.

It’d be something else entirely to install Kurt Rambis as an associate head coach, though. He did poorly as Timberwolves coach and, as New York’s interim coach a couple years ago, made the Knicks into an even bigger mess than they already were.

This shines new light on Magic Johnson reportedly admonishing Luke Walton for not having an experienced coaching staff. Walton had Brian Shaw, a former Nuggets head coach (and someone with his own problems relating to players). Shaw wasn’t enough?

Maybe there was a preference from above, not for any experienced assistant coach, but Kurt Rambis specifically.

This should scare any Lakers coaching candidates. Not getting to pick your own staff is a negative. Having the owner’s hand-picked choice forced upon you is a huge red flag. That means management will be confident in an internal replacement if it’s considering firing you.

Damian Lillard says Paul George being a poor sport: ‘If anything, it was bad defense’

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Damian Lillard made the coldest shot the NBA has seen in years – a buzzer-beating, series-winning, 37-foot pull-up 3-pointer over Paul George.

George called it a “bad shot.”

Lillard on the Pull Up podcast:

It was a good shot.

I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the moments. That’s because they’re not the ones that’s there. I literally work on those shots. And I don’t work on it so I can just come out and just shoot it for the whole game. I work on it just because, over my career, I know how much attention I’m going to get from defenses. So it’s just like you’re just keeping stuff, adding more things, adding more and more, keeping stuff in your pocket, in case these types of situations do present itself. Even if it’s not something you want to lean on, it’s something that you have there, that you worked on, you spent time doing. So, you’ve got confidence in it when the time does come. That’s why, when I was just standing there, I was like, well, it’s probably not good in a lot of people’s eyes. But I’m comfortable with this, and I’m confident in this. So, to me, it’s a solid shot.

For him to say that’s a bad shot, that’s just kind of being a poor sport. If anything, it was bad defense, because I had the ball in my hands with two seconds, and I wasn’t going to drive, so maybe he should’ve just bodied up.

Whether a shot is good or bad depends on the context. With the game tied, the Trail Blazers wanted to ensure they took the last shot of regulation, make or miss. The Thunder’s defense was set. Lillard has tremendous range.

In a good shot/bad shoot binary, I’d call this a good shot. It certainly wasn’t a great shot. But in that situation, I think it passes the test (though I’m obviously biased by seeing it going in).

The fact that it was such a difficult shot doesn’t take anything away from Lillard. It only adds to the accomplishment.

I’m loving his victory lap. After Portland got swept by the Pelicans in the first round last year, he faced questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs. It’s time to put those to rest.

There’s plenty of room to debate whether that incredible basket was a good shot or a bad shot by process. But Lillard is built for these moments. There’s no doubt.

NBA, Kings investigating sexual-assault allegations against Luke Walton

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Kings coach Luke Walton is being sued for sexual assault. He is not facing a criminal investigation.

Kings release, via NBC Sports California:

The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association announced today that they have commenced a joint investigation into the allegations contained in a civil lawsuit filed Monday against Kings Head Coach Luke Walton.

The Kings have hired Sue Ann Van Dermyden, founding partner of Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, who is an expert on employment law with decades of experience in conducting investigations, and Jennifer Doughty, a veteran investigator and senior associate attorney at Van Dermyden Maddux. They will lead the Kings investigatory team.

The NBA’s investigatory team will be led by Elizabeth Maringer, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Integrity and Investigations. Prior to joining the NBA, Ms. Maringer served 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including three as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

In 2016, Derrick Rose was sued – and found not liable – for sexual battery. The NBA did not investigate that situation as the lawsuit unfolded.

Why did the league change its approach now?

Rumor: Jeanie Buss mistakenly CCed Magic Johnson on Rob Pelinka’s emails critical of Johnson

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As he stunningly resigned as Lakers president, Magic Johnson bemoaned “the backstabbing, the whispering.” It seemed he was talking about general manager Rob Pelinka. And maybe he was.

But perhaps Johnson was also referring to owner Jeanie Buss.

Ric Bucher of FS1:

My understanding is is that there were some emails that were exchanged between Rob and Jeanie … about Magic and about what Magic was and wasn’t doing. They were critical emails. And somehow, some way – Jeanie, from what I understand, was CCing or blind CCing Magic on everything. That was sort of protocol, standard issue. Somehow, the exchange between Rob and Jeanie ended up on that string of the blind CCs that were going to Magic. So, Magic now is seeing emails from Rob to Jeanie that were critical of what he was doing.

And maybe most important in all this is that there was no indication that Jeanie was backing Rob up in terms of either going to Magic and letting him know that this was going on or going back at Rob and defending Magic. That was not happening. And so when he talked about the backstabbing, to me, my understanding is that’s what started it. And the fact that Jeanie waved goodbye and said, “Thank you for all that you did,” was that she didn’t necessarily disagree with what Rob was saying.

The problem with this story: It’s believable, and a lot of people want it to be true. I want it to be true! It’s hilarious.

But that opens the door for people spreading it, even if it’s untrue. It’s a lot of fun to pile on the Lakers right now.

Back to the believability. Johnson, even while resigning, has frequently called Buss his sister. Would she really participate in email chains critical of her own brother?

Oh, right.